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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Veteran Middle East hand Dennis Ross, who advocates a more aggressive sanctions regime toward Iran, was appointed Monday by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as her special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, an apparent euphemism for Iran.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Ross would provide Clinton and State Department officials "strategic advice and perspective on the region; offer assessments and also act to ensure effective policy integration throughout the region; coordinate with senior officials in the development and formulation of new policy approaches; and participate, at the request of the secretary, in interagency activities related to the region."
Interestingly enough, Iran was not mentioned in the statement, and the title given to the job - special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia - raised eyebrows, with some scrambling for maps and dictionaries to see what exactly southwest Asia included.
One US official said the title seemed an effort not to give the Iranian dimension too high a profile, apparently in order not to antagonize the Iranians, who have not hidden their antagonism toward Ross.
For instance, earlier this year Iran's hardline Kayhan newspaper referred to Ross as a "pioneer of the American-Zionist lobby," and said his selection as a US envoy to the region would be an "insult."
Israel had no official reaction to the long-expected appointment of Ross, who is well known in Jerusalem from his days as president Bill Clinton's Middle East envoy.
"It is no surprise," one official said. "He was always a close adviser to Barack Obama when he was a presidential candidate, so this is a natural development. He is a man who is very knowledgeable and knows the Middle East inside and out."
Another official said it was beneficial that Ross knew the region so well, and that he would be able to "hit the ground running" on an issue that needed immediate attention.
Israel, the official said, "was eager to deal with the new administration to promote the joint goal of keeping Iran from nuclear proliferation."
According to Wood, Ross will be advising Clinton on a "region in which America is fighting two wars and facing challenges of ongoing conflict, terror, proliferation, access to energy, economic development and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. In this area, we must strive to build support for US goals and policies." Ross, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last September, gave a good indication of what he thought needed to be done to keep Iran from nuclear weapons.
"Iran has an array of very profound economic vulnerabilities and we haven't been playing upon them," he said. "The US Treasury has probably been the most effective. But you need a more collective approach.
"The Iranians' oil output is declining and their consumption is growing. The export of oil is the key revenue the regime uses to buy off the Iranian public. Pressure that and you pressure the leadership."
Ross said five months ago that time was running out, and "the sooner you begin to effect real economic sanctions, the sooner they'll have to make hard choices.
"In Israel I was struck by the assessment that the entire Iranian leadership wants the nuclear weapon, but the pace is affected by the cost. They don't all want it at any price."
Regarding specific steps that needed to be taken against Iran, Ross said it was necessary to work with the EU and cut back the provision of refined oil products to Iran.
"Second," he said, "work with the Saudis. China's stake in Saudi Arabia dwarfs its stake in Iran. The Saudis don't want Iran to go nuclear. And if you line up the EU and China, that might build a Russian incentive to be more responsible."
In an article he wrote for Newsweek in November, Ross coupled the "sharp sticks" of toughened sanctions with "appetizing carrots."
"We need to offer political, economic and security benefits to Teheran," he wrote, "on the condition that Iran change its behavior, not just on nukes but on terrorism as well."